Freelance writers and copywriters everywhere must take pity on the poor misunderstood semicolon. Do you often find yourself wondering about the proper use of a semicolon? Ever ponder whether to insert a comma or the oft-shunned semicolon? How about knowing when to use a colon as opposed to our little half-breed cousin: the semicolon?
We’re here to clear it all up for you as best we can. Use colons to direct a reader to a list of examples or other significant words or phrases:
Jeanne’s hubris caused her to do one thing right: fail.
Samantha enjoys a variety of fruits when soaked in champagne: kiwi, strawberries, bananas, and peaches.
No matter what the occasion, Amy finds hats of all sorts appropriate and festive: fedoras, bowlers, panamas, or the classic pillboxes.
Colons get confused with semicolons when it should join two sentences where the second illustrates the first, closely related sentence:
My entire family agrees on my assessment of the dog: pooping on my bed was a very bad idea, indeed.
Our family dog begged to differ: the bed was warm and close.
Use a semicolon to combine two related thoughts, often disjointed or seemingly unrelated until joined by — you guessed it – our favorite half-breed punctuation symbol.
Give Samantha the platinum ring; she earned it.
I love to run, hike, and swim; go to Crossfit classes and mountain climb; and buy new fitness clothes for the activities.
It took him ten years to complete the novel; therefore, he claims to be a 10-year overnight success.
The common comma and the semicolon often present a quandary to writers. By using semicolons effectively, you can make your writing sound more sophisticated…and who doesn’t want that? Try thinking of semicolons as vehicles to help you connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed.
Some people use pencil when they work crossword puzzles; Amy uses pen.
The maître de did not so much as show us to our table; he absconded with us along a byzantine trail.
So, while there are a few hard and fast rules regarding the semicolon, [notice the comma usage] sometimes it’s simply a style choice. But, once writers master the mulatto relative of the colon, their readers will find them suave—even glib.
If you’re still confused about the difference between a colon and semicolon, take a look at this vid from The Lonely Island. These cats are kind of like a 21st-century Schoolhouse Rock…M*%&aH F#@Ck#H! Oh yes, we probably should mention: parental advisory advised.
Oh Lord, please don’t let the semicolon be misunderstood. So whether you’re a freelance writer; a best-selling author and public speaker; a political pundit and historian; or simply a letter-writing diva, get down with proper semicolon usage. But please, whatever you do, don’t abuse and misuse our favorite punctuation symbol.